Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Review: Kwaidan - Make All the Hell of Dark Metal Bright

 From time to time, I enjoy writing about records that excite me. Here's one of them.

Kwaidan - Make All the Hell of Dark Metal Bright (Bathetic Records)

Kwaidan is composed of three highly regarded experimental musicians in Chicago: Andre Foisy (Locrian), Mike Weis (Zelienople) and synth-wrangler Neil Jendon. With such a stellar lineup, it's hard not to be impressed with this LP, or to predict what it sounds like. Upon spinning this, I found I was correct in the former (this is indeed a great record) and wrong in the latter: Make All The Hell of Dark Metal Bright does not sound exactly like I thought it would — and in no way is that a bad thing.
The album begins with what I assume is one piece split into three movements: "Three Empty Rooms of Light and Space: Evening Bell, Gateless Gate, and Ostention." This is Kwaidan at their darkest, and listeners well-versed in Locrian's black-smoke sound will find bleak solace in the low, slithering synths, distant droning guitars and lumbering toms.

If this opening piece is the dark, the remaining three tracks are the subtly shifting greys just before dawn, with glimmers of daylight piercing through the gloom. Jendon's synths occupy the lows, allowing Foisy's remarkably clean guitars to float amongst ghostly piano melodies and restrained, yet propulsive, percussion.

The closing track, "The Sound of This Bell," burns the brightest here. Beginning with a fragile, delay-soaked guitar motif, Kwaidan masterfully add layers of hissing synths and shimmer cymbals until the track glows red-hot with searing distortion and feedback.

 But one Kwaidan's biggest strengths is that they've created an LP that is focused, but still manages to maintain that loose, experimental, improvisational feel that is impossible to fake. These are three musicians who know their craft and their instruments, and the chemistry at work between Foisy, Weis and Jendon is undeniable. The degree of restraint on display here is masterful, as Kwaidan slowly and surely ratchet up the tension and dread, and while they do allow a few faint slivers of light to pierce the murk, they offer the listener little, if no reprieve.

At once beautiful and ominous, Kwaidan's debut full-length encapsulates some of the best elements of drone, psych and post-rock but without any of the genre trappings: it's dark without being theatric, and meditative without relying on cheesy, over-played "new age" tropes. I find the music here extremely listenable, but by no means is this easy listening. Kwaidan walk on the edge of beauty and terror, tension and ease, and it is fascinating to hear them veer off in either direction.

This release is vinyl only, and quantities are limited. Go to Bathetic Records and get your copy.

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